Lessons and Leaving

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I just finished the final round of edits for Crescent City Confidential. Because the book is set in New Orleans, I decided to dedicate the story to the Southern women who taught me a great deal and helped me become the woman I am today. Grandmothers and aunts and cousins, teachers and nuns and neighbors. These women taught me about resilience and grace, perseverance, and not being afraid to be smart, or strong.

And then the election happened and everything about that felt cheap. I felt betrayed. Betrayed by some of those same aunts and cousins and neighbors and friends. But even in that darkness, I knew that the lessons I learned were still there. Things like believing in myself, social justice, and not being afraid to stand up for what’s right.

Perhaps more than anything else, they taught me it was okay to leave. That I needed to leave. It was a lesson I didn’t fully understand until much later—that staying was tantamount to a death sentence. Every single day of my life, I’m profoundly grateful for having left.

What started out as going away to college turned into a full and satisfying life in a place I didn’t know existed and with people I couldn’t even imagine as a kid.  I can’t fathom what my life would look like had I stayed. I may have never come out; I may have never taken myself seriously as a writer. I might have gotten married and had kids and aspired to a (little pink) house in the suburbs and vacations (down at the Gulf of Mexico).

Without these women, I’m not sure I would have been brave enough to imagine something else.

But they saw something more. And even though they probably never fathomed that I’d live in New York and be a dean at a college and write lesbian romance, they sensed that I was different, needed something different. They laid the groundwork and offered the encouragement that set me on my way to becoming me.

I think the process of becoming is at the core of all my books. As much as my characters find love, they find themselves. This is definitely the case with Crescent City Confidential. Both Tess and Sam have strong feelings on who they are and what they want. Their identities have been shaped by family and geography and life circumstances; they are happy, but not complete. They fall in love, sure, but they also become themselves—more authentic, more whole.

It feels ironic now that I set this story in Louisiana, the place I needed to escape from. As I write this, I’m here visiting my mother and godmother. I feel a bit like a stranger in a strange land, counting the hours until I go back to my life a thousand miles away.

But I like to think I’ve come full circle. I know I’ll never again call Louisiana home, but it will always be part of me–messy, contradictory, infuriating, enchanting. I’m not ashamed or afraid of it. It’s mine.

I like to think maybe there’s a little girl somewhere with a big bow and a feeling she can’t quite put a finger on, a feeling that tells her she doesn’t belong. She might not be the next lesbian romance writer, but maybe this lost little girl turned romance writer can show her there’s more to life than the world she knows.

In the meantime, you can pre-order Crescent City Confidential from Bold Strokes Books. Catherine, Claire, Dr. Rosser, Dr. Landry, Mrs. Kurtz, Sr. McFayden, Cindee, Laura Lee, Leslie, Sara and all the rest of you fabulous women, this one’s for you.

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And for Once It Might Be Grand

In my tiny Catholic high school, each senior got a full page in the yearbook–our senior photo and a quote of our choosing. Most girls picked something philosophical that made them feel smart, or a line out of a country song. I, in the throes of my Beauty and the Beast obsession, selected a line from Belle’s opening song.

And for once it might be grand
To have someone understand
I want so much more than they’ve got planned.

The choice caused a bit of a stir in my small circle of friends. I was the valedictorian, after all. I’d gotten a scholarship and would be attending a good college (in the North, even). Everyone fully expected me to be successful. And, most likely, to find a nice boy and get married and have babies. For a girl in south Louisiana in the 1990s, that was pretty much what one aspired to. So what could I possibly mean? What else was there?

At the time, I struggled to articulate what the “more” was supposed to be. I wasn’t in the closet. Well, unless you’re referring to the clueless closet. But I knew. I knew there was something that I–even with my healthy imagination–could not yet fathom.

At the GCLS awards on Saturday, as I sat listening to tributes and acceptance speeches and looking around the room at literally hundreds of lesbian (and bi and trans and ally and queer) women, that quote hit me like a giant cartoon anvil to the head.

I’d found it. At seventeen, I didn’t even know it existed. And, oh, but it was grand.

Spending three days surrounded by writers and readers and lovers of lesbian literature filled my heart. Knowing I am a legitimate, published author–a member of the Bold Strokes Books family, no less–made me both happy and proud. Seeing so many smart, talented, wonderful women recognized for their work filled me with joy and gave me something to aspire to.

After the awards, there was a dance. Dressed in my flouncy new dress, I kicked up my heels and had a fabulous time. I did the macarena. I led the conga line. For reals. I also danced with Lee Lynch (you know, to Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now,” like you do.) I joked that my polka-dot dress make me wild. I think the dress helped. The vodka tonics did, too. (Thanks, Maggie and Fiona!)

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Photo credit: Nell Stark

I like to say that life is too short to be self-conscious. I’m better at actually taking that advice sometimes more than others. This was definitely one of those nights. Sprinkled with fairy dust. Magical.

So to everyone who was there–in person or in spirit–thank you. Thank you for being an amazing community and for welcoming me with open arms. Thank you for for helping me become what seventeen year old me could only begin to imagine. It’s so so very much more than I had planned.